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These Two Tricks Help Me Live More Mindfully

I rarely live in the present. Most of my life is spent in the past or the future. For example, right now I am looking for a new job. With each job posting I look at, my trusty companion Anxiety and I take a trip into the future. I analyze every aspect of the posting and picture how my resume will be received; whether I will hear back from them, and all of the pitfalls I will run into if I actually get an interview. Anxiety never convinces me it will go well. I have signed up for groups and classes that sound great, but then when it’s almost time to go, anxiety shows me all the ways it will go wrong and I usually end up staying at home alone, again. Because staying at home seems better than the awful future anxiety shows me exists when I actually interact with other people.

Being alone may seem better than the future anxiety has shown me, but the problem with that argument is that anxiety has rarely proven to be accurate in telling my future. I am still trying to convince myself of this, so I maybe one day will take a chance and follow through on plans. In the meantime, I spend a lot of time at home alone. This creates the cycle that my anxiety thrives in; because when I am home alone I have more time to analyze the future or the past.

Mindfulness is my way out of this cycle. I am not great at setting aside time for formal meditation, but I am pretty resourceful and have come up with tricks that get me to do the things I know are good for me. These tricks are fun ways that encourage me without feeling like a new routine to get used to.

I have two tricks for mindfulness that have worked quite well in the last few months.

The first one is knitting. When I was little I learned to crochet from my grandmother. My grandmother was an amazing woman who I admired. I forgot how to crochet years and years ago, but I still smile at the memory of sitting with her and crocheting together. Since she passed away, I have thought about taking up knitting, in part to keep that memory of my grandmother close to me. A couple of months ago, I bought yarn and needles and let YouTube teach me how to knit. It was quite easy and inexpensive and now I have a scarf almost finished.

Following a pattern, particularly with knitting being so new to me, requires concentration and focus. I find it impossible to let my thoughts drift into the future or past while I’m concentrating on knitting. If my thoughts do drift, I end up with a funny looking pattern that alerts me that I am not being as mindful as I need to be. I keep my knitting beside my chair and when I find myself getting anxious, I can pick it up and work at it for a while and it brings my mind back to the present. And I can work on it while the TV or radio is on. These distractions don’t seem to bother me while I’m concentrating. The benefits of knitting are twofold; remembering the nice memories of a grandmother I loved and a new scarf for this winter.

The second trick that works for me is jigsaw puzzles. The last time I was in the hospital there was a table in the back of the TV lounge with a half-worked puzzle on it. I was bored one day and sat down and started working on it. The next thing I knew, an hour had passed. This was amazing because the boring times in the hospital slowed time down, to the point that I thought the batteries in the clock must have died. I started working on that puzzle each day and not only was it fun, it kept my mind off everything else. Just like knitting, it required concentration and engaged my mind enough that I had to stay in the present moment.

Before I was discharged, I had finished that puzzle and worked on two others. Some of the other patients would join me and help, which made it a great social activity too. Other patients, and even nurses, took an interest in how the puzzles were coming along. It was a great feeling of satisfaction to see the completed puzzle and show it off to others, even if a piece or two was invariably missing. 

After I left the hospital, I started visiting thrift stores to find puzzles to do at home. They are an inexpensive habit that has allowed me to visit second-hand stores I probably never would have. I have even set aside a space in my home just for them. There is no clock or distractions in that space, it’s just for puzzles. While I’m working on puzzles, I am totally in the present moment and it allows me to escape from the anxiety of the future. My personal preferences are puzzles made from photographs of landscapes.  Sometimes when I am walking I look around and think, “This scenery would make a nice puzzle.” Puzzles are even making me more mindful of my surroundings without meaning to!

Knitting and completing jigsaw puzzles are two mindful activities that are helping me right now. I am sure there are others, and if these two stop working for me, I will search for more. It is so important for my well-being to keep my mind out of the future and the past. My anxiety may not be a very accurate fortune teller, but sometimes it is so believable that I take it as my reality. When I can pull my mind back into the present I am better able to face the world and do the everyday things I need to do. I also think knitting and jigsaw puzzles can have a social component to them which may help me feel less isolated. 

Do you use any tricks to practice mindfulness?

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